Thursday, August 6, 2009

What's more powerful, good or bad?

In Nymeth's review of 84, Charing Cross Road, she says, "...this is a book I will read when I need to be reminded, as we all do sometimes, that yes, people can in fact be very kind to one another. It's not that I want to ignore the fact that they can be awful too, but sometimes I just need a book that will make me smile all the way through."

This is how I felt about Same Kind of Different as Me, (which I reviewed here). That along with
Ali's good deed from years ago, along with her review of Striving for Greatness got me thinking about what's more important-happy, uplifting stories about people doing good things out of the kindness of their hearts or through their strength in their faith, stories that inspire us to this kind of action ourselves or stories about the atrocities people can inflict on one another, stories that anger us, shock us, sadden us, and make us want to stand up and take action against such behavior.

Is one type of story more effective than another? Does it depend on the reader or the particular acts being discussed? Is a story about cruelty to animals more likely to move someone to action than a story about people who rescue animals? Alternately, is a story about humanitarian efforts in a foreign country more likely to inspire support than a story telling about the atrocities perpetrated by a warlord in that same country?

What do you think? Have you read a book, seen a movie, heard an interview that inspired you to take action to make the world a better place, even if it just means smiling more to strangers on the street or not being as snippy with telemarketers? Or maybe even made you go to church or volunteer to do something outside of your comfort zone? Was it because you were inspired by the good in others or scared by the bad? Did you want to stand up and join in or stand up and fight?

Ultimately, I suppose we need both, the good and the bad, to remind us that both are still out there. We need the good to keep us from becoming cynical, jaded, and hopeless; we need the bad to keep us from becoming complacent, ... well, that's about all I can come up with. What do ya'll think?


farmlanebooks said...

What a great question!

I think the most powerful thing is when good takes place in spite of terrible evil. People who put everything on the line to help someone in trouble, knowing that they could lose everything in the process.

I look forward to reading what everyone else thinks though!

Nymeth said...

I agree with your conclusion: we need both. On the one hand, I don't want to see the world through rose-coloured lens and believe that everything is great when clearly it isn't. But on the other hand, I also don't want to forgot that no matter how terrible things people do to each other are, we're all also capable of kindness and generosity. And you know, this whole question reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut. One of the reasons why I love him is because his books have a unique ability to combine both sides.

Ali said...

Interesting question. I wish people never did horrible things to one another. But then again, if I didn't know that those things happened, would the kindnesses have as much meaning?

Part of what makes my story that you linked to poignant, to me, is the fact that the homeless guy asked for help expecting to be ignored. If people treated the homeless with kindness and humanity every day, a story about buying a hungry man a burger wouldn't lift anyone's heart anymore than buying their own children a burger would. The world would be a better place, but maybe there would be less to draw us towards one another? I don't know. I'll have to put some more thought into this. Thanks for bringing it up!

Kori said...

In a nutshell, I think there is good and bad because there is free will-which is a gift given to us, right? So much easier to make a clear "right" choice after we have seen (or experienced) some of hte bad-be it the choice to live a better life or be nicer or whatever it is. Without the bad, life would sure be a lot easier, but would it be as sweet?

Amy said...

I agree with the conclusion that we need both. I really believe in balance...we need pain to appreciate good times, we know loneliness so we can understand love.

So when it comes to stories, I believe the same thing! We need books that tell us the horrors of the world, so that the books that show kindness in the face of them mean something even more.

Dreamybee said...

farmlanebooks-I agree about good taking place in spite of terrible evil. It's one thing to know what is the right thing to do, another to know that doing it might bring harm to yourself or a loved one in some way, and something else altogether to do it anyway.

Nymeth-The only Vonnegut I've read is Slaughterhouse Five, but the scene where the bombing of Dresden is seen in reverse really stuck with me. I think, in an odd way, it kind of illustrates that duality of human nature.

Ali-I think you're right-if all you ever knew was kindness, would it be as good of a thing? Is it worse to be surrounded by kindness and not realize that it's something extraordinary, not recognize the grace, or is it worse to know that it's an extraordinary thing? Sad to say, but I do think we need the bad to see the good. As you said, buying a man a hamburger isn't a great thing...unless you're that man and expecting nothing.

Kori-I already feel like I'm in a Catch-22 thought process here; now you're going to throw free will into the mix? LOL! So, then, back to my original question, which inspires people to choose (of their own free will) to act kindly or even heroically, seeing the bad or seeing the good?

Amy-I think so too. Sure would be nice if we could get rid of all the bad stuff though, wouldn't it...or would it? What would happen then? ;)

Dreamybee said...

Thanks for all the great thoughts everyone. This is one that's going to keep going around in my brain for a while. I'd love to hear other thoughts and opinions on this if anybody has anything to add.